The founders of “Angel Food,” a Georgia-based “non-profit” that uses churches to sell discount groceries, are back at work following a court-brokered agreement, but without their company credit cards and exorbitant salaries.
Joe and Linda Wingo founded Angel Food in 1994 as a means for helping friends and neighbors who were struggling financially to find food, according to their Web site, which says they did so “with a heart to help others and a generous spirit.”
The organization reportedly provides discount food to 500,000 people in 39 states. It does so through a network of some 5,000 churches whose volunteers take orders, collect money, and distribute the food to people who pay $30 for what is advertised to be $65 worth of food.
By taking advantage of all that free labor, along with wholesale buying, donations, and other means I can only guess at, the “non-profit” reaps large profits from the arrangement, and its founders have been flying high. In 2006, Joe and Linda Wingo, along with three other family members, took home about $2.5 million in salaries and took other questionable benefits, landing the organization on MinistryWatch.com‘s list of ministries about which donors should be cautious.
A lawsuit filed by two troubled board members charged financial mismanagement and led to an ongoing FBI investigation, leading some churches to wonder if they want to stick with the program. Last week the lawsuit was settled, at least temporarily, though the plaintiffs retain a right to renew court action depending on what a financial audit turns up.
In the settlement, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, “the Wingos’ company credit cards will be canceled, the nonprofit will undergo a forensic financial audit, and Joe Wingo will sign over to Angel Food a company he owns that was renting a corporate jet to the nonprofit at $10,000 a month profit.”
You can read more of the disconcerting details at the links above. Meanwhile, Christianity has suffered one more example of ministry leaders who apparently start out with their hearts in the right place, but succumb to the lure of what the old King James Version of the Bible calls “filthy lucre.”
Evidently, Angel Food could have been charging far less than $30 for those boxes of food: the “charity” brought in $137 million last year, according to the reports, far more than needed to cover expenses.
I wouldn’t go to a church whose pastor lives like a king (or queen), and I don’t support charities whose executives grow fat on donations intended for the people they serve.
The worst thing is that bad behavior on the part of one charity’s leaders may cast a shadow over other nonprofits and provide a convenient excuse for people to stop supporting them. Charitable organizations do an amazing amount of good work in our world — and there seems little question that even Angel Food has been a blessing to many.
Leaders of such organizations just need to keep their focus on those they are helping, instead of helping themselves.